Oregon State Bar Bulletin — APRIL 2016

Parting Thoughts

The Best Partner Ever
By Larry Sokol

So, the beginning of March is a tough time around here. My legal secretary of almost 41 years has retired. She’s not here in the morning anymore. I shouldn’t call her at almost any hour for questions or advice. She’s not available to ask what she thinks of a client or other attorney — not that I had to wait and ask for an opinion. She will always be in the ethers — in the files, in my memories. Connie will forever be the measure of what is possible, the standard of excellence. Take a peek at the shoes of the biggest and strongest Trail Blazer. It might give you a sense of the size shoes she has left to be filled.

In short, she has been the best.

Think about it. What is more important than your first impression? The most magnificent website will evaporate as fast as it appears if a new client has a tough experience with your chosen assistant. For me, Connie has been the face of the practice for over four decades. It’s been a wonderful run. During that time she has met hundreds of clients and almost as many lawyers. She has seated them, answered questions, fielded and thrown out attempts at stealing home. She has comforted and reassured enough worried plaintiffs to fill Autzen Stadium.

Been to a dentist lately? Often the anticipation is as bad or worse than the treatment. Doesn’t it make all the difference in the world to have a kindly and knowledgeable person there to listen and understand? Same with a law office. People come into our practices often at one of the most challenging times of their lives. They have, to a person, suffered some loss — often the worst you might imagine. Things are spinning and uncertain. As their case chugs along and the first visit becomes a second or a third, it makes all the difference for them to have a warm person they know will be there available in person or by phone. A longtime relationship with people who are making your practice possible is priceless.

There are no friends like old friends. Isn’t this true in every relationship? Not as exciting as a new relationship, but it’s what you want when the chips are down. (And, when aren’t they down in what we do?) How do you get to be an old friend? Time, time and more time. There is no substitute. Old friend equals trust and all that goes with it. This trust is between you and your clients, you and your staff, and your staff and those you are hoping to help.

Coming as I am from the ancient days when depositions were taken by shorthand and typing copies often involved carbon paper, here’s a contemporary comparison: Imagine what it would be like to have your computer keep blowing up and then having to shop for, program and learn to use the replacement. Suppose this happened every year or two? You’d go nuts wouldn’t you? A legal secretary is far more complex and valuable than any computer on the planet, so it just makes sense for both of you to hang to together.

And now a word from the nostalgia department. When Connie began, she did everything. She arranged depositions and meetings, typed pleadings, wrote and often rewrote letters and squeezed in time to do the books. She sacrificed weekends, evenings, peace at home, time with her cats and took care of Pete the less-than-wonder-dog. She banged out briefs which had to be rewritten time and time again to make them intelligible. She kept the calendars, set up trial dates and schedules, and she would often watch the trials. She advised what had been screwed up and what had gone well. Her impressions of everything in the courtroom were trusted and most often spot on. A second set of eyes, an additional pair of ears, another opinion from a considerable brain and, maybe most important, another soul’s more serene view of the “Big Picture.”

Throughout our years together, I have enjoyed watching her passion for genealogy, traveling often, near and far for research, and to Norway to feel the soil of her ancestors. She became an accomplished photographer, taking swell photos of eagles, osprey and other stunning birds not far from her home. Connie is, unlike most of our vintage, able to really understand the latest software and soon adapted it to our office needs.

Connie, you will always be the number one seed in my March Madness bracket. There is not enough room in the galaxy to thank you for everything. Enjoy what you so deserve and have so earned: peace.


About the Author
Larry Sokol, an Oregon lawyer since 1972, has been handling medical malpractice and personal injury claims in Portland for more than 35 years.

© 2016 Larry Sokol

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